fugitive frequency episode 10: Vishnu is…

Vishnu Vardhani Rajan is the issue of this episode; a Helsinki-based performance artist and body-philosopher. Our interview, recorded in March 2021, is interspersed with fantastic Telegu film songs and cheeky advertising jingles.

An addendum message is from representatives from the EZLN — the Zapatistas —currently in Europe, having arriving in Madrid in August to mark the 500th anniversary of Colombus ‘discovering’ the Americas. I caught up with a delegation of women at a symposium in Turku: ‘Gender, Nature and Survival’ organised by Power from Below. Special thanks to Erwin from the Armadillo Collective for making this possible.

Image of Vamp Master Brown wearing an earring made of crystalized menstrual blood is based on a fotozine by Heidi Lunabba.

Media used in the episode:

Theory On The Radio

Vestax Spin

Last night I was listening to music, the way I used to when I was a child: lights off, sitting in front of the speakers and emotionally available to go with the sound… but now with high quality headphones that detect the fine production details. It made a significant difference to the music I usually only hear when I mix and I found myself listening to certain tracks by the Two Lone Swordsman, Jlin and Kode 9 several times over, fascinated by their subtle productions techniques; arguably listening with respect for the time and experience that went into their making.

This is very different to when I mix, which is intuitive. I often playing with tracks I haven’t listened to all the way through, teasing out their possibilities as they unfold. I suppose this is why ‘tracks’ are called ‘DJ tools’. I tend towards eclectic mixes. I don’t stick to genres, nor the latest releases. I’m not part of any scene, so I lack insider knowledge and don’t get sent anything exclusive. Also, I don’t mix regularly. I tell people I stopped more than a decade ago and the entry level Vestax controller I bought around that time is proof of it. (The company went bankrupt in 2014, which I only learned when I recovered my barely used Spin last year from storage).

I digress. After last night’s listening session I decided I would push these tracks to front of my ‘crate’ in Mixxx (free and open source) and shape my collection around them. I’ve noticed there is a lot of footwork in this folder, old and new. Today, I read some interviews with Jlin. Living in Gary, Indiana (where the Jacksons were also born) her early points of reference were footwork from Chicago, but she describes her sound as ‘EDM: Electronic Dance Music.’

I’ve been thinking about a notion of ‘riddim discursivity’. With reference to ‘urban dance music’ (UDM?), there is an established discourse about how certain looped samples laid the foundation for specific genres. Think of the ‘Funky Drummer’ in hip hop, the ‘Sleng Teng’ riddim in ragga, the ‘Amen Break’ in jungle, the ‘Volt Beat’ for funk carioca, reggaeton’s ‘Dem Bows’. I could happily spend hours (days, months, years) traveling down these wormholes, exploring the genealogies of such genres, but that’s not what I want to do at present. Notably, all of these genres emerged out of specific locals, often lower socio-economic enclaves of big cities — hip hop from the Bronx, New York; ragga from downtown Kingston, Jamaica; jungle, garage and grime from the estates of London; funk from Rio’s comunidades. With their own histories and handful of pioneers these genres have all globalised and mutated. They have been opened up by a range of artists and production techniques, accelerated by peer-to-peer networks, blogs and file-sharing platforms; cross-infecting genres of bass.

So, I wonder what exactly is EDM? Most recorded music these days goes through some form of electronic, or more precisely, digital production. How does EDM differ from say, Electronica? It reminds me of IDM — ‘Intelligent Dance Music’. I don’t know where this term popped up. I vaguely recall reading an interview with Richard Devine in Cyclic Defrost, a zine associated with the weekly ‘Frigid’ nights organised by Sub Bass Snarl (Luke Dearnley and Seb Chan) in Sydney in the 1990s and early 2000s, that discussed IDM as a genre emerging from easier access to software, equipment and time. It inferred some class dimension to this music. It probably encompassed producers such as Squarepusher and Autechre, to which I would add DJ Spooky, Matmos, Amon Tobin — I don’t know, who isn’t intelligent? Jace Clayton AKA DJ/Rupture used to describe himself as ‘the world’s smartest DJ’, or words to that effect. Richard D. James AKA Aphex Twin and Grant Wilson-Claridge, perhaps mischievously, named their label ‘Braindance’, as an electronic music movement and ‘way of life’ that: ‘encompasses the best elements of all genres’. Perhaps IDM simply announced a shift away from ‘four-on-the-floor’ rhythms into more ‘abstract’ styles of production that were not perceived to be so dance-floor friendly; and more suited for listening to on headphones? IDM might also have signalled a delinking of production from geographically-locatable scenes, as music dispersed via networks rather than, say, record stores?

Anyhow, back to EDM. In a 2017 interview, Jlin discusses connecting online with the late DJ Rashad, regarded as one of the founders of footwork (a genre of urban dance music), when she began developing as a producer. In a 2016 interview Jlin divulges that she hates clubbing and I began to wonder about her scene; who does she make music for? Jlin says her main sounding boards are her mother and best friend. Next I read an ‘up-to-the-time’ guide to footwork by Chicago-based producers RP Boo, Jana Rush, and DJ Manny and was surprised by their inclusion of tracks from producers based in Poland and Berlin.

While I’ve been collecting footwork and juke since before I withdrew as a DJ, the genre currently comprises much of a folder on my desktop labelled ‘Next Level’. Not all of the music gathered here is new, indeed tracks by the Two Lone Swordsmen date back to 1998. I’m enjoying the process of working out what stays in the mix, what gets culled and then figuring out what is missing — ‘curating my crate’, you might say.

Arguably, deciding what works in the mix is subjective, but it’s not necessarily music I like, or would listen to in any other way. With DJ software, the speed of a track — BPMs — need not necessarily govern what is most readily beat-matched. Pushing tracks well beyond their speeds (+/-24 is enough for me, but this range can easily be widened), opens up what is possible and introduces some novelty. While I know producers who have long designed their tracks to switch between tempos (80/160 BPM seems to be the footwork standard), lately I‘ve developed new respect for tracks that can connect between genres.

Although I’ve a life-long fascination with rhythm, I’ve noticed that I habitually drop my interest in dance music (or any other genre), returning to it some years later, enthused to find ‘something new’. This pattern of behaviour is arguably a rhythm in itself. Another habit is to reach out to theory and then stumble into ways of doing theory that are not strictly academic. Hence, ‘Theory on the Radio’ as the headline for this post and a description/prediction of how this ‘urban artistic-research’ project might evolve over the coming year/cycle.

I often find music by reading rather than listening; reading about producers, scenes and genres. Recently chatting to a friend and philosopher Bruno Besana, who sometimes collaborates with experimental musicians, he observed that music — and all art — is accompanied by a context or discourse that frames it, and that indicates what to be attentive to. But I’m also interested in what Kodwo Eshun termed ‘sonic fiction’, the interplay between close listening (or dancing or reading or looking or in other ways feeling), thought and the construction of narratives and concepts. Indeed, Eshun described himself as a ‘concept-engineer’ in his bio for More Brilliant than the Sun (1998). This book alone is proof how such concepts can fold back to influence the music or whatever material that was initially being addressed, or diverge altogether into different fields. So, while I take pleasure in listening to finely detailed productions, I wouldn’t describe myself as an audiophile. Rather I also enjoy thinking with music, as a embodied process, recalling Kodwo Eshun observing his body reacting to jungle ‘faster than the speed of thought’. Another digression.

Mixing is for me a way of listening and it often leads to music I wouldn’t otherwise be attentive to. I’ve also noticed the syncing features of DJ software have impacted the way I do this. While I appreciate being able to push tracks into speeds well beyond those in which they were made, I’m not so sure this has made my mixing any better. I write this in an attempt to articulate what I mean by pursuing an ‘eclectic sound’; a sound that connects to a broader — and also lifelong project — about how to be in the world that is an ever-evolving present.

At present I’m thinking with Sylvia Wynters’ urgings for specifically Black, colonially-oppressed and gendered people, to break from historical scriptings, and embrace invention [PDF]. Simultaneously, I’m thinking about Eshun’s speculation that the kinetic rhythms and forward pressure of jungle were somehow re-training or upgrading our bodily organs for what was to come. This is something that Steve Goodman AKA Kode9 picks up on in his book Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect and the Ecology of Fear (2010) in which he discusses (amongst other things) the ‘(sub)politics of frequency’ — by which the affective manipulation of sound (notably bass) is used to modulate the tensions of urban life, ‘transforming deeply engrained ambiences of fear or dread into other collective dispositions’ (p. xx). In a 2013 interview he says:

… for me, if the sound is right, then the politics are secondary. That is one of the key powers of music, to overload and short circuit people’s value systems and produce an intense encounter in which all other issues temporarily subside. It’s great where the music resonates with what you might think politically, but it’s not necessary, because the burden of political correctness can also be the ultimate vibe killer.

So I’m toying with how an eclectic sound might also contribute to this effort to inhabit the world differently, by means of alternative rhythms, brain patterns and behaviours — and also communities who gather around these practices; ‘eclectic sound as a way of life.’ A decade ago, my first point-of-reference was DJ/Rupture, these days it is Zíur who springs to mind.

It seems, mixing for me is a somewhat improvised, but no less habitual approach to elaborating on emancipatory impulses that are also ‘faster than the speed of thought’. Drives. So in this spirit of experimentation, this post concludes with some notes cribbed from last night’s listening session:

‘If Deejay was your trade’
and your job was to modulate bodies and time through sound — ‘vibes’;
emotions and energy,
push-and-pull people through rhythmic abstractions.
(You might)
manipulate the tick-tock passing of time and textures that trigger memory, nostalgia, fantasy and curiosity
dread
with speed and volume
(with or without chatter).
At best, a subjective experience transferred to others.
Find your niche and push it.

fugitive frequency episode 09: Rhythmic Intelligence

‘Rhythmic Intelligence’ (RI) is a phrase coined by theorist and artist Kodwo Eshun when writing about hip hop and jungle in the late 1990s:

rhythm isn’t really about notes or beats, it’s about intensities, it’s about crossing a series of thresholds across your body. Sound doesn’t need any discourse of representation, it doesn’t need the idea of discourse or the signifier: you can use sound as an immediate material intensity that grabs you. When you hear a beat, a beat lands on your joints, it docks on the junction between your joints and articulates itself onto your joints, it seizes a muscle, it gives you this tension, it seizes you up, and suddenly you find your leg lifting despite your head. Sound moves faster than your head, sound moves faster than your body. What sound is doing is triggering impulses across your muscles … Anywhere you have a sense of tension, that’s the beginning, that’s the signs of a bodily intelligence switching itself on.

This hasty live mix is a rehearsal for a livestream club that fugitive-radio is proposing to host during the darker, colder months of Northern Europe to chase and perhaps harness urban bass musics’ ‘forward pressure’. The idea is not to fence in sound with concepts, trace histories or perform political alignments, but rather to simply play ‘what grabs you’.

Writing around the trajectories of jungle in the 1990s and early 2000s Simon Reynolds observed a ‘Hardcore Continuum’ across the UK and North America of mutating, viral and infectious urban dance music. Technologically enabled, such music culture can be read as an Afrofuturist extension of Black Modernity, that Eshun (1998) traces as a kind of alien and inhuman intelligence. As such, mixes such as this attempt to make a situation conducive to opening up towards sound and, as Eshun observed, to be ‘abducted by audio’.

Notably, livestream clubs operating during lockdowns have shifted the experience of such music. ‘Clubbing’, for want of a better word, is not what it used to be! It now seems unusual to enter a club and lose oneself amongst other dancing bodies, although new waves of illegal raves are undoubtably sprouting in urban peripheries. Infectious rhythms don’t rely on physical proximity to spread, but they are nevertheless a consequence of touch. Shifting air pressure presses on the eardrum and pulses through other bodily organs; RI inhabits the ‘sensual mathematics’ of code and vibration that is digital music production (Goodman 2010), the synthetic imagination of machines and the spontaneous alchemy of the mix.

I am curious about the capacity of such sound cultures to produce affects, fictions, modes of identification, and what theorist, DJ and producer Steve Goodman AKA Kode 9 describes as an ‘unorthodox hallucinatory [R]ealness’ (2010). While sound, as Eshun argues, ‘doesn’t need any discourse of representation’ music experiences and sound cultures certainly produce them, and many, such as myself, enter into these tribes via such means. (Notably, Eshun introduced and the term ‘sonic fiction’ to describe the interacting narratives and myth-science-poetics of artists, listeners and communities who collectively produce music cultures). Thinking through sounding infrastructures, such as sound systems, audio streaming platforms and peer-to-peer networks, we could draw on rhythmanalysis to consider how networked intelligences, software automation and mutating (narcosonic) music traditions shape bodies, shift behaviours, and induce states of subjectivation.

Track list
Arash Pandi – Chargah
DJ Spinn – Crazy ’n’ Deranged
KABLAM – For Hildegard
Iyer – Ratnam’s Riddim (Nonfuture Remix)
Badawi – No Schnitzel (Machinedrum Remix)
Mark Pritchard – Manabadman (Instrumental)
Jlin – Carbon 7 (161)
DJ Rashad – Love U
Rizzla – Dick
Air Max ’97 – Hounded
Subjex – Fractal Geometry
Gant-Man – Distorted Sensory (Kode 9 Remix)
DJ Rashad – Let It Go
Jlin – Asylum
RP Boo – Off Da Hook
Nkisi – Parched Lips
Iyer – Rakkama, Clap Your Hands (Wellbelove Remix)
Si Begg – Sick and Tired of the Bullshit
Zomby – Kaliko
Elysia Crampton – Oscollo (drums only version)

fugitive frequency episode 08: The H Word.

Defund the Humbolt Forum

‘The H Word’ is an audio document of the protest against the opening of the Humboldt Forum in Berlin, Tuesday 20 July. Featuring the voices of Jumana Manna (Coalition of Cultural Workers Against the Humbolt Forum), Mnyaka Sururu Mboro (Berlin Postkolonial), Jeff Kwasi Klein (Each One Teach One), Nataly Jung-Hwa Han (Koreaverband), Michael Küppers Adebisi (Afrotak TV cyberNOMADS) and those of many other protestors.

fugitive frequency episode 07: La Cabaret

La Cabaret – Nail polish

‘Welcome to La Cabaret, an open invitation to mix politics and pleasure, with the energy of cabarets, queer bars and block parties to celebrate that despite all the struggles, we can make room for joy.’

‘La Cabaret’ was a post-porn salon of sorts, curated and hosted by Irina Muttin in her share apartment in Rastila, East Helsinki. First broadcast live on June five on {openradio}, it features Frau Diamanda, Elina Nissinen, lintulintu, Yes Escobar and Roxana Savdo amongst other guests.

Poethical De-Scriptings


‘Poethical De-Scriptings’ broadcast live from Pixelache Helsinki Festival #BURN____2021 outside Oodi central library, Helsinki, 7 June, featuring artist and finance activist Ana Fradique and artist-musician Suva Das.

‘Poethical De-scriptings’ is a term I use to describe a practice of live and improvised verbal narrations for radio broadcast.

In her essay, ‘Toward a Black Feminist Poethics’ (2014), Denise Ferriera da Silva proposes ‘poethics’ as a means of emancipating the ‘Category of Blackness’ from the scientific and historical ways of knowing that produced it, with ‘the ethical mandate of opening up other ways of knowing’ (p. 81). Releasing Blackness from objectification, commodification and the forms of domination that produced slavery, a Black Feminist Poethics elicits a range of possibilities that decolonization demands; not for the betterment of this world, but rather toward ‘the end of the world as we know it’.

‘Scriptings’ is a word coined by the artist Achim Lengerer who is concerned with the political questions of speech and language. It is a conflation of the words ‘script’ and ‘writings’, and is also the name of Lengerer’s publishing and production house in Berlin. ‘Scriptings’ also refers to ‘social scripts’, a term borrowed from behavioural psychology to describe knowledge of how to perform adequately in a given situation. One example is how one gets the attention of a waiter in a restaurant. In some circumstances this can be achieved by establishing eye contact, in others it might be acceptable to call, gesticulate and even whistle. While whistling might be inappropriate in the first scenario, attempting to make eye contact might be insufficient in the latter. So knowing the correct social script is crucial to achieving the desired result, as is performing roles correctly to enable social functioning.

My practice of poethical de-scriptings adopts poethics as an approach to being in the world that enables one to delink from the social scripts that one performs by default. It draws from the ‘alt text’ descriptions that often accompany images online to assist those who are visually impaired. Efforts to address issues of accessibility are inherently political. In this example from screen-based media, written and audio descriptions expose the epistemological violence of (hegemonic) visual cultures.

The term ‘access intimacy’ was conceived by writer and disability justice activist Mia Mingus to name the ‘hard to describe feeling’ and ‘eerie comfort’ that arises when someone ‘gets’ her access needs. Access intimacy is not exclusive to disabled people and Mingus (2011) confides:

There have been relationships that carried emotional, physical and political intimacy, but sorely lacked access intimacy. And there have been relationships where access intimacy has helped to create the conditions out of which emotional, familial and political intimacy could grow.

Mingus urges her readers to adopt ‘Access as a framework’ to address a spectrum of needs of those who are (differently) disadvantaged in an ableist world. Furthermore, she distinguishes access intimacy to ‘obligatory access’ that is ‘stoic’ or perfunctory. She writes:

Sometimes access intimacy doesn’t even mean that everything is 100% accessible. Sometimes it looks like both of you trying to create access as hard as you can with no avail in an ableist world. Sometimes it is someone just sitting and holding your hand while you both stare back at an inaccessible world.

My practice of poethical de-scriptings shifts from literal descriptions of my visible surroundings into self-reflection and speculation. While it might sometimes involve close looking and articulation of details, I work in the haze of representation; my poethical de-scriptings may not be visually accurate, but neither are they fiction. Rather, I seek to be personal and precise about what I am see-feeling-thinking.

I approach radio as a medium that is networked and as an event that can be collectively produced and distributed. Rather than the mass media notion of broadcasting to the world, I pursue radio as a social practice that connects peers, friends and enthusiasts. Rather than shouting out to an unknown audience, my technique is more akin to whispering into a lover’s ear.

Attempting audio descriptions made me acutely aware of the power dynamics inherent in language and that are reinforced in everyday speech acts. I discovered that my efforts to communicate clearly and sensitively were determined, and arguably undermined, by social scripts which inform reflexive speech. Foregrounding these codes emphasised that what is ‘normal’ is designed and that these designs condition, noticeably in the built environment and ‘public sphere’. Indeed, it reveals the prejudices of normativity and how one is positioned relative to authority.

As such, poethical de-scriptings attempts to deconstruct and dismantle these power dynamics through an improvised verbal practice. It makes one acutely aware of how ‘words shape worlds’; how ‘worlding’ is material-discursive and how language is privileged as knowledge. Towards the end of the live broadcast embedded above, the artist Suva  demonstrates his hand percussion skills on the ‘Konch’ urban furniture in which I was seated. It is an example of how such a skilled musician can ‘talk with their hands’. This might be phonetic, as Suva mimics the sound of language with percussion. Suva also refers to pre-established cultural codes that might announce an event such as the birth of a child, a wedding or war, emphasising that drumming can also be emotive, making using of texture, pattern and abstraction.

Extending out towards non-verbal communication such as humming and drumming, poethical de-scriptings seeks to jailbreak language from the authority it is deployed to uphold and shift ways of being-in-relation in the world.

PIXELACHE HELSINKI FESTIVAL 2021: #BURN____

Pixelache Helsinki Burn 2021

Pixelache Helsinki Festival 2021 #Burn____, co-directed by artist-organiser Andrew Gryf Paterson and author Laura Gustafsson, takes place this year with limited access in selected spaces inside Oodi Central Library in Helsinki and outside the front canopy of Oodi, as well as online, from the 6th to the 13th of June 2021. The theme of the festival #Burn____, anticipated in late summer 2019, sets the context of the festival contributions, reflecting on mental health, social solidarity and struggle as well as on ecological crisis.

After a year of excessive screen-based meetings, the festival re-adopts one of the oldest media forms at physical distance from another – radio – seems to be the idea of making a festival event with local and international contributors in consideration of mobility and gathering restrictions. With the established experience of hybrid radio, Pixelache brings a localised listening mix of audio works from two open calls, a live radio stream of festival events especially made or adapted for radio, emerging sound artists, podcasts, and interviews with festival artists and contributors. During the festival, the public can interact with a local FM radio broadcasting around Oodi. Bring Your Own Radio (BYOR) to listen, and if you like a blanket or picnic!

fugitive radio is planning a series of live and collectively produced outside broadcasts for Pixelache #Burn. We will meet outside Oodi Central Library from 14.00 everyday of the festival. If you’re curious to make live experimental radio with us bring your smartphone and a pair of wired earbuds. These work as an antenna on your smartphone if it has an FM receiver (look for the app!) Also bring a bluetooth speaker if you have one. After a little warm up, we will begin streaming online between 15.00 and 16.00 each day, thanks to {openradio}. We will also be broadcasting to a limited range around Oodi on 91.4 FM. If you can’t make it to Oodi you could join us remotely — we’re working on a platform! Updates will be posted on fugitive-radio.net and our Telegram channel. Follow us on Insta: fugitive.radio.

fugitive schedule
Sun 06: Roaming Radiophonic Picnic — sites and sounds of the Oodi broadcast zone.
Mon 07: Poethical De-Scriptings
Tue 08: ‘Swings & Ropes’ with Irina Mutt
Wed 09: The Snow Globe Effect: post-vax mental health chit chat with Tania Nathan
Thu 10: Hum Klub
Fri 11: Karaoke
Sat 12: ‘Cacerolazo’ environmental percussion with Suva Das
Sun 13: ‘Democracy Day!’ What do you think?

To participate online please download SonoBus, a free and open source, multi-user audio streaming application. Check back here on Sunday 6 June for details about how to join our room.

La Cabaret

‘La Cabaret’ image: ‘Sex-part(2006), de Majo-Post-Op

Image credit: ‘Sex-party’ (2006), de Majo-Post-Op.

Saturday June 5, 19:0020:30 CEST (Barcelona, Berlin) 20:0021:30 EEST (Helsinki, Athens)
Streaming on {openradio} 

Welcome to La Cabaret, an open invitation to mix politics and pleasure, with the energy of cabarets, queer bars and block parties to celebrate that despite all the struggles, we can make room for joy.

Happening in an apartment in Rastila, East Helsinki, this event will have interventions by post-porn researcher and artist Frau Diamanda, tarot readings by Elina Nissinen, improvised spoken word by guests and music by lintulintu.

La Cabaret invites the audience to join with their browsers and ears to know a little bit more about dissident Iberoamerican post-porn, divination with tarot cards and as Lintu Lunar describes their work, to play and dance with ‘technosexual tunes and non-binary data fantasies’. Opening home doors to anyone curious to join us in this encounter. Because this ‘us’ is about you, too.

Artists and collaborators: Frau Diamanda, Elina Nissinen, lintulintu, Yes Escobar, Irina Mutt, fugitive radio, {openradio} (Sophea Lerner).